Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Point . . And I Do Have One, I Think . . .

- A favorite blogger this morning talked about why liberals have a hard time hearing what conservatives have to say about health care. "The problem for people who hate Obama's agenda is that some of us never showed zeal for the poor, and Obama did." I stand accused. I have certainly had compassion for the poor without healthcare . . . but zeal I have had not. But I believe that God instills in us "zeal specialties". And I do have zeal for the poor and uneducated.

- Our church in NJ had a relationship with a great organization called Urban Promise that ministered in Camden (one of the armpits of the country, for those of you who don't live in the Philly area). Urban Promise ran a high school that, when I first heard it described, sounded to me like a place where kids were taught like homeschoolers, just by people other than their parents and outside of their home. Upon learning more, my first impression wasn't completely accurate, but I still love that idea. A school that homeschools . . .

- Our friends, the Hernandezes, have their children in a classical Christian academy in NJ. I love a lot of things about the classical education movement. This particular academy starts teaching Latin in the second grade, which puts kids at a disadvantage if they start attending in 3rd grade or later. To make up for this, they offer a class in the summer called Latin In A Week. It catches kids up on a year's worth of Latin in an intense one-week course -- a course which, apparently, is not only quite effective but very enjoyable for the kids who take it. I always wanted to sit in on that class (or actually, to take it) to see how they do that. I can see a lot of application for such a concept . . .

- My experience homeschooling my girls has gotten me very interested in learning styles -- or, even more interested than I already was. One of the many big disadvantages of the school environment as we do school in the U.S. is that it is so difficult to accommodate the individual differences of students in learning style, and pace, and interests, and motivations. They are factories -- one size fits all. They standardize education -- and honestly, who wants our children to be standardized?

- I saw an article online the other day about a college professor who scrapped ABCDF grades for his classes. He modeled his new "grading system" on popular computer games (of which I am generally ignorant). You started out with zero points, and as you acquired skills and experience in the course of the class, you moved up to different levels and titles. How cool is that? Seriously! For some subjects, that makes significantly more sense -- I mean, what exactly does it mean to say your kid got a C+ in 2nd grade math anyway?

Yes, this train of thought is going somewhere. The question is, do I have the courage to hop on for the ride . . .

Monday, March 29, 2010

But What Did You Learn?

Leslie got her 3rd quarter report card today. A in Science, B+ in Mod Tech. I'm proud, of course. Especially since through most of her Mod Tech class, she didn't have any idea what she was doing.

I asked her today what she thought she had learned in science this year. She thought a while and said she knew she had learned some new things, but it was all muddled in the back of her mind somewhere and she couldn't pull it out on demand. Hmmm. If that means that it is knowledge that will surface when it's necessary, I guess I'm okay with that.

What I was wondering was, how would I feel about her getting an A in a class in which she felt like she didn't learn anything? I mean, I certainly remember classes in middle and high school where I didn't learn anything -- or, at least, anything that stuck. Does it matter now that I got an A in the class? I guess in high school, any A boosts your GPA, which is important for getting into college.

But this is kind of my point. Why should colleges care what grade I got in a class where I didn't learn anything? Isn't learning the whole point of school?

My last couple years teaching high school English, I completely redid my grading system. I got tired of my honors students who focused all their energy on racking up points and disengaged entirely once they had the points to get the grade they wanted. I knew they weren't learning -- they knew they weren't learning -- they were simply very adept at playing the school game.

Until I changed the rules. I set before them the major objectives of the class: demonstrate a thorough understanding of this novel, write an effective persuasive essay, etc. If they wanted an A, B, or C in the class, they had to meet every objective. Some of the objectives could be met in a variety of ways. You could show me you understood Of Mice and Men by writing an essay . . or taking a test . . . or discussing the book with me one-on-one after school. I had one girl draw this amazing mural that showed beyond any doubt that she understood that book inside and out. Fabulous!

You wouldn't believe the crap I got from students about this grading system. Agreed, it was a new system and had kinks I was still working out. But mainly, they couldn't get by with doing the minimum anymore. They had to actually meet the course objectives -- they had to learn something -- or they got a D. They hated it.

Frustrating that our top tier of students should find such an expectation to be so odious.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ain't No Grave . .

No-o-o grave gonna hold my spirit down.
Ain't no gra-a-ave hold my spirit down. (Newsboys)

We watched a Nooma video in our small group Tuesday about the life/death cycle. How death feeds life. Decaying organic matter becomes fertilizer for plants to grow. Plants die -- or give up parts of themselves to die -- to be food for animals and for us. Dying to self makes way for life in Christ. Death to life. Old to new. One thing must die for another to live. It was an appropriate message for going into Easter week.

I feel like I've been trapped in the dying part of that cycle for a quite a while. Winter, of course -- and a really awful winter at that. Sleep deprivation. Grumpiness of family members. Frustration with people and schedules. Dryness of creativity. Loss of motivation. I've even been suffering from a minor medical condition this week (one too icky to expound upon here -- and nothing for any of you to worry about).

But this morning, I experienced a momentary spark of new life. The sun is shining. There are blades of green grass starting to appear in the lawn. The flowers the cast gave me after the play last week are blooming pink and lovely. And the CD in the van started playing the defiant rockin' song I quoted above. No grave gonna hold my spirit down.

I'm determined to choose new life today. I've had a miserable winter . . but Sunday is a'comin'. I'm throwing off the graveclothes. Death gives way to life. These momentary sorrows will only be fodder for the joy to come -- for what Satan meant for evil, the Lord will turn into good! Do I hear an "Amen", brothers and sisters??

Lord knows, they'll never keep me in the ground --
Ain't no gra-a-ave hold my spirit down!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Please Hurry

A friend just posted a verse on her Facebook status: Isaiah 40:17. So I looked it up.

Yet I am poor and needy;
May the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, do not delay.

Spoke my heart in a lot of ways this morning. But the last line particularly struck me: O my God, do not delay.

I'm quite the preachy one. Well, maybe not always preachy, but definitely teachy. Intellectual. The head knowledge. I can usually give a decent answer to most faith queries, whether my answer is valid or not. (I was reminded in my small group study last night that it's better to admit you don't know something than to spit out a bunch of baloney that sounds like you do.)

My usual response to why God hasn't acted on some problem yet (like, say, my sleep issues) is that God's timing is always right. He's never too late; we just need to be patient. And I do believe that -- that isn't just baloney I spit out.

But this passage reminded me that even though I can trust God's timing, there's no reason I can't ask him to please hurry. I think he wants to hear such passionate requests from us. Like my husband, who I'm sure is always anxious to see us at the end of his work day, and who knows we're anxious to see him . . . but I bet he still likes to hear me ask him to "Hurry home!"

So, Lord, I know you know the desires of my heart. And I know you will accomplish these things when the time is right. But I'm still pleading with you . . . do not delay!!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Show Day!

It's Show Day. 3pm and 7pm performances today of "Pilgrim's Progress". I've been praying for cloudy skies so the sanctuary we're performing in would be dark for the afternoon matinee. Now, we have an inch or two of snow falling. Apparently, I'm a righteous woman, for my prayers availeth much! :)

Kind of feeling in a weird state this morning. Not crazy anxious, just jittery. Glad I have picking up to do in the house before everyone comes over for the cast party between shows. I don't think it would do well for me to sit and think.

I'm considering my pep talk for the troops this afternoon. About nerves. Nerves, you know, are a physiological phenomenon. Your brain recognizes a possible threat and signals to your bodily functions to rev up a bit, get the blood pumping to the muscles and the brain so they're ready to respond. But if they get revved up too much, the opposition occurs -- you freeze up.

And what controls whether or not it gets that far is your thinking. Philippians 4 tells us to "be anxious for nothing", but take everything to God is prayer. But then it continues to say, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble . . right . . pure . . lovely . . admirable . . excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things." We take our fearful thoughts to God and put them in his lap, but we have to also then replace them with truth -- positive truth.

I believe that God already has figured out what he's going to accomplish through this play. I pray that some of that is being accomplished in the hearts of the kids. But also, maybe there's a woman coming today who needs to be reminded that the "Key of Promise" from God can free her from the dungeon of the "Giant Despair". Maybe there's a man coming who has felt burdened with having to perform his way into the "Celestial City" who will hear today that "the King already forgave you for all that, way back at the cross" -- and finally believe it. Maybe there's a child who won't get any of the meaning here, but will remember the story for years -- and God will bring a line or a character or a moment to their mind when they need it thirty years from now.

Whatever God has to accomplish, he's already at work . . . preparing hearts, opening schedules, clearing snowy roads. Whatever minor mistakes we make today can't thwart the work of God. We do our best, pray that it's blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest.

What a privilege to be used as the hands and feet and voice of God in this way! This is why I do drama ministry!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Change Is A'Coming

We here in Iowa have had snow on the ground since the beginning of December. I mean, serious snow -- a foot deep with 3-4 foot high drifts, never melting for three months straight. We have been longing and longing for the snow to go away. Only a couple weeks ago did it warm up enough for it to start gradually melting. And there was much rejoicing.

Well, perhaps not "much" rejoicing. Because the snow left behind it mud. It also has rained off and on for a lot of the past couple weeks, and there's been very little sunshine, so the ground is saturated. The grass we thought would look so glorious to us is matted down and mushy -- almost moldy looking in places. Everything is brown and soppy and gross. Even the remaining piles of snow (yes, there are still many) are grungy with dirt. It's just hard to face the world with a smile when you're surrounded by such dreariness.

This morning when Eastin and I left the house to walk to the bus stop (OK, there's a positive -- it is warm enough to walk to the bus stop again), we just happened to step out of the house just as a huge flock of geese was flying overhead. (I assume they were geese from the honking.) And I mean a HUGE flock. One V-formation after another spread from east to west as far as we could see (which in Iowa is a long ways), and more kept coming up behind us. We watched the formations shifting shape as they moved northwest. OH, people . . . it was breathtaking. Even Eastin got choked up: "I need a tissue!" And I took the opportunity to teach her a little Yiddish. I'm all ferclempt!

So, perhaps winter really is ending. This may be the most anticipated spring I've ever known.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another "Duh"

One of the fascinating things I remember learning about childhood development when my girls were little was how is happens in spurts. A child may struggle for months with matching her ABCs with their respective sounds . . and then out of nowhere, something clicks and within a few days, she is reading real picture books . . and then she may stay at that stage for several more months . . . and then she gets a hold of the right book that inspires her and she's reading chapter books in a few weeks . . .

And this is all quite normal. Cognitively, physically, and probably in every other way, we develop not at a continuous steady pace, but in fits and starts. In fact, I bet we probably still grow that way as adults; it's just not as obvious as it is in the tiny years.

Given this fact, am I the only one who finds it absolutely astonishing and completely idiotic the way we run our schools? Education folk talk themselves blue in the face about individual differences -- yet we still expect all children at age 9 or 10 to be in "4th grade" (some abstract label we give to kids who are about age 9 or 10) doing "4th grade math" (whatever that is) and reading at the "4th grade level" (whereever that is). And their success or failure in "4th grade" (again, what is that exactly???) is determined by their mastering this arbitrary set of skills and information bits that somebody somewhere has decided is what every child should be learning when they are 9 or 10, and in the 4th grade.

Idiotic. Completely.

For a few years now, my mind has been envisioning a school that scraps the whole grade level notion (such a stupid construct anymore) and allows children to acquire the skills and information they need at the pace -- and in the manner -- in which it works for them. To me, this is absolutely a "duh" thing. Why have schools not done this before now? Yes, it would be an administrative challenge, but we've certainly tackled worse.

An FB friend introduced me to a blog written by a high school history teacher in Jersey -- a teacher who seems to be of the same mindset as I about such matters. And he has given me a term for what I have been imagining: differentiated learning. I don't think this is a new term -- but actually accomplishing this in our schools would be a new thing.

And it seems to me, if the United States really wants to remain the "leader of the free world", it would be a critical thing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I saw something in the grocery store this morning that upset me. A little boy was there with his dad, and his dad was teasing him, stepping in front of him everywhere the boy wanted to go. The boy kept saying, "Don't! Stop!" and trying to walk around him, but the dad just grinned and kept stepping in front of him, even as the boy's frustration increased.

Admittedly, this was not particularly malicious or mean, but it still upset me. For one thing, I know that feeling when people are not listening to you, not taking your protests seriously. In fact, I have dreams of being in situations like this boy's, and they are some of my worst dreams -- I wake up in an absolute fury and take an hour sometimes to shake it off.

But I'm most upset at the unspoken message this teaches this boy. I tell my girls over and over that if they are teasing their sister, and she tells them to stop, they are to stop immediately. It doesn't matter if she's laughing while she says it, or if they think that she's really enjoying herself, or if they think that she's just being too sensitive . . . stop means stop. No means no. Every. Single. Time. No exceptions. End of story.

As important as I think this is to teach my girls, however, I hope even more that the boys my girls will ultimately be associating with have parents who are teaching them the same things. Stop means STOP! No means NO! Period! Don't you dare take it upon yourself to decide what she "really" means by that. What she means is . . . NO!!!!

I'm sure such thoughts never crossed the mind of this father with his little boy in the grocery store. But maybe they should. Cuz the first thought that crossed my mind watching the whole episode was, "You keep that boy away from my daughter . . ."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Face to Face I Shall Behold Him . . .

Leslie and I just finished reading the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle. Lewis' vision of what heaven would be like is fascinating in so many ways. But I was particularly struck by a character named Emeth. He is a Calormene, not a Narnian. He worships Tash, not Aslan. He is a noble, good man who ends up in the "New Narnia" unexpectedly, as a result, actually, of his desire to see Tash face to face. When he instead comes face to face with Aslan and immediately recognizes him as the One "who is worthy of all honor," he is prepared to accept his deserved fate as a servant of Tash: death.

But Aslan's response to him is pretty amazing. "All the service thou hast done to Tash I account as service done to me . . . I and he [Tash] are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him." In other words, because Emeth's heart was seeking to serve a good God, although he was misinformed about who that God was, his service still counts. And he is accepted by the God that he didn't realize he was seeking.

Interesting, yes?

In a "Tough Questions" Sunday School class once, we were talking about the age-old question: if a relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven, what will happen to people who die without ever hearing of Jesus? Someone in the class had a fascinating theory. He said he believed that everyone, deep in their heart, was aware of their sin, aware of their separation from God, and aware of their need for a Savior. Some people squelch that knowledge within them. But some face it boldly and spend their lives searching for the Savior they know they need -- in whatever form they are capable of understanding him. Even if they never hear of Jesus in their time on earth, when they get to heaven and meet Him, they will know him, because He's the one they've been searching and longing for. Essentially, they knew him all along.

Interesting as well.

I don't know if that's accurate. I don't suppose we'll ever know in this life. But I do know that it would be characteristic of the God I know. We don't have answers to all the mysteries, but we do know some things for certain -- God is holy, God is just, God is omnipotent, God is love. And a God like that, it seems to me, would make a way for a man like Emeth.

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Year, New Place, Same Hurdle

In the obstacle course that is our lives, God seems to lead us to the same obstacles over and over again until we master them. I've noticed that there is a certain kind of person that keeps popping up in my life, at various ages I've been, in various locations I've lived in. A type of person who consistently cuts me to the core, so apparently I haven't mastered the obstacle of this relationship yet.

They don't necessarily hate me, although I'm not convinced they like me very much, and I seriously doubt they have much respect for me. At best, they tolerate my necessary presence in their lives, though some of them have tried to avoid my presence as much as possible, too. They aren't out to get me or to pull me down. But by no means are they interested in giving me any kind of boost.

Mostly, they observe my doings with an ubercritical eye, watching for the inevitable errors I commit, small and large, ready to make mental note of them to add to their mental list of the reasons they feel they way they do about me. My successes go unnoticed or unnoted, while my failures seem to be exaggerated. They don't usually communicate any of this verbally (at least not to me), but they don't have to because their non-verbal communication screams to the high heavens.

And unfortunately, they are rarely people that I can just avoid or ignore. They tend to be people of significance, people who have influence over others, particularly others who are around me. They are often the "larger than life" types whose lack of respect for you looms over you like a shadow. At least over me, the girl who feels an organic need to have everyone like her.

There is always somebody like this in my life, often more than one at a time, like there is now. They drain me -- exhaust me -- sometimes paralyze me -- make me question everything I say, everything I do, everything I am. And I'm tired of the power they have over me. I want to master this obstacle so I can move on in the course.

What is it God wants me to learn from these relationships? To trust my own instincts about when I'm doing the right thing? To not care about others' opinions of me? To see these people through His loving eyes and not my own offended ones? I feel like I've already grown in all these areas over the years . . . and yet one semi-sneer from one of these semi-tormentors still puts me in tears. Maybe I just need to gather more "cheerleaders" around me to counteract them. But that seems a little pathetic, too.

SIGH. Anyway, I could certainly use a cheerleader today. And some sunshine. And a good night's sleep. And a hug. Can't wait for Keith to get home from his business trip.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Loving Liberally

I'm a pretty conservative Christian. And I've lived most of my life in pretty conservative Christian circles. My Facebook addiction, however, has connected me again with some good old friends who are pretty liberal Christians. Well . . . "pretty" liberal? A couple I can safely call radically liberal. And they would wear the title with pride.

Hearing their point of view on things is always valuable for me, because sometimes they're right. (Of course, just because they're right, it doesn't necessarily follow that I'm wrong . . . ! ) There are a few issues that we have marked, profound disagreement on. But on probably the majority of spiritual questions that come up, we agree more than we disagree -- and our disagreement usually has more to do with a question of emphasis.

For example, "social justice" seems to be a hot-button topic in most of the liberal Christian world I've been exposed to. Helping the oppressed, standing in solidarity with victims of injustice. And I don't know anyone in my camp who would argue against that idea. But my liberal friends just give it more emphasis -- probably in reaction to the seeming apathy they've seen in other Christians. And rightfully so. While liberals certainly don't have the corner on compassion, they do seem more willing to show it whole-heartedly, with no "spiritual agenda" attached.

Interesting isn't it that the Church has a long history of lifting up the oppressed, the needy, the forgotten, the unwanted (think hospitals, orphanages, etc. etc.) -- while at the same time, it has a long history of intolerance and oppression toward those it disagrees with (think Crusades, witch hunts, etc. etc.). How can the Christian Church be such a schizophrenic organism? Because it is made up of fallen, imperfect Christians.

And because the task we are given -- to be the hands, feet, and face of God on earth -- is a formidable and complex one. We are to love perfectly, as God loves us all. We are called to be holy, as God is holy. And to do them both at the same time requires an indwelling God doing it through us. We simply aren't capable.

I admire liberal Christians I know for their commitment to the downtrodden. They see this as a command from Christ that is not meant just to be obeyed in our free time, as it is convenient for us, but as one which requires personal sacrifice and a willingness to enter into someone else's suffering. I have much to learn from them.

I wonder what they would have to learn from me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Scary, Scary Twilight

Eastin was telling me that everyone she knew had seen the Twilight movie, except her. Which stunned me, because it's rated PG-13. Does nobody pay any attention to those ratings anymore?? How can everyone my 9-year-old knows have seen a movie that even proclaims itself that it is for teenagers and older?

Anyway, we got it from Netflix and I told her I'd watch it with her. Leslie had already seen it and didn't like it. She couldn't get into the book either. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I have a few friends (adult friends) who love the series, so I was hoping to find something there to appreciate.

I don't know that I did. Maybe if I looked deeply. But I was too distracted by the things in the movie that really appalled me to search for things to appreciate. Oh, heavens! I was up all night fretting over the Twilight phenomenon.

First of all, these two teenagers fall "irrevokably" in love with each other after just a couple strained conversations. They hardly know each other. Now, I realize that this is not unusual in movies and literature -- it's, in fact, my biggest beef with Romeo and Juliet. But it's still bogus and deceptive to young girls who do not have the experience and wisdom to distinguish true love from heady, immature infatuation.

More than that, neither of them ever look happy in the midst of this love affair. There is a pall of despair that surrounds the two of them through the whole movie--in fact, surrounds the whole town. That was Leslie's complaint about the movie: "There can't really be a town anywhere that is that depressing!" Bella makes several comments that seem to hint longingly at death (e.g. "Death is easy; it's the living that's hard."). As many young girls as there are out there dealing with serious depression and suicidal tendencies, we do NOT need to be romanticizing the idea OR giving them the impression that the way out is through a dangerous, forbidden love relationship.

But my biggest problem . . . I kept remembering students I knew when I taught high school who were being beaten up by their boyfriends. "It's OK. He can't help it -- he just can't control his temper. I know he loves me. He would never really hurt me. He always feels so bad afterwards. And I love him so much, I could never leave him." Scary, scary, scary. Women are killed entangled in those lies, and this movie seems to glorify and romanticize her devotion to this guy -- a guy who admits himself that he is dangerous and she shouldn't trust him. She calls herself a stupid lamb, as if that's a good thing. It's a horrible thing. We should never let our girls (or boys) believe that love is some emotional thing that overpowers you to the point of being unable to act wisely. That's not love -- that's something else entirely, something you should run from.

If this was an adult movie, I probably wouldn't react so strongly. But this is specifically marketed to young pre-teen girls who do not have the wisdom and mental wherewithal to analyze its content. They just feel an emotional rush at the romance and the cute boys and long to have that in their own lives. Scary, scary, scary.

I may be being melodramatic, but I would bet money that there is more than one young girl out there somewhere who is in a life-threatening situation right now because this movie (and book) glorified danger and despair to her impressionable heart and mind. I know I wouldn't want to have to answer for that on Judgment Day.

Plus, the boys simply aren't that cute. Seriously.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Getting Away

I'm back, folks. I know I haven't written in a while. I was enjoying a nice, long weekend away with my hubby. He had a business trip in Tucson, and I was able to go along on this one. His parents were gracious enough to drive up and stay with the girls. Getting things ready to leave was an eye-opener in itself, all the stuff I had to write down for them to know. Car pool comes at 7:15 . . bus comes at 8:10 . . give the dog his meds before bed . . put the recycling out at the curb Thursday night . . make sure Eastin gets a shower these nights . . lots of details to our lives that I have stored away in my head.

Anyway, they managed fine and we got away to Tucson and the desert. Keith has always said he wants to spend his winters in Arizona when he retires. Golfing, you know. It was lovely terrain around Tucson, but I think if I lived there, I would tire of it. Or I guess I would long for some of what I'm used to around here. Sick as I am of snow right now, I would miss it if I never had any.

This trip was a reward trip for high performing salesmen at Blue Bunny. Keith's not in sales -- he's in marketing. But he's enough of a "higher-up" that he got to go along. We stayed at a two-month-old Ritz-Carlton north of town, nestled in the mountains. Fanciest hotel I've been in in a LONG time. Our bathroom looked like a museum. Felt like a desecration to pee there.

Keith got to play golf on Friday. I went on a desert jeep tour. We had Saturday to ourselves, and that was the highlight of the trip: simply being alone with my husband. I miss that. I mean, I love my kids and I was happy to get back home to them, but heavens -- couple time alone is a precious commodity these days. We didn't even have to do anything exciting. We spent a lot of time laying in bed, watching the Olympics. But it was wonderful.

So, you'll have to forgive me for not blogging on the trip. I'm sure you understand.